Megatherium

Extinct in 7000-8000 years ago
  • Megatherium
  • Megatherium

A real Giant arrived in our Lost Zoo – Megatherium, a Ground sloth from South America

Recently arrived in our Lost Zoo one of the most impressive animals ever found on Earth and being the largest endemic South American terrestrial mammal, the Giant ground sloth or Megatherium (meaning “Great beast”). Like the related armadillos, anteaters and tree sloths, Megatherium and the other species of ground sloths live mainly on the South American continent. The largest Ground sloths belong to the genera Megatherium and Eremotherium. With a body weight of 4-6 tons they weigh almost as much as an African elephant bull.

Vintage drawing of Megatherium in 19 century① Vintage drawing of Megatherium in 19 century②

Vintage drawing of Megatherium in 19 century①
(Click to view larger image).

Vintage drawing of Megatherium in 19 century②
(Click to view larger image).

The Megatherium lives in the Pampas region and in the Andean mountains up to a height of 4.500 m, whereas Eremotherium prefers the tropical lowland. As the only Giant ground sloth, it invaded also into North America 2.2 million years ago, after crossing the recently formed Panamanian land bridge.
By fossilized footprints, measuring 88 x 48 cm each, we know that the Giant ground sloth - although primarily quadruped can walk on its hind legs rather like a bear. Standing on its hind legs, it is more - than 5 m tall, almost taller than an elephant and equal to the height of the largest giraffe bulls. Like the modern anteaters, Megatherium walks on the sides of its feet, because its huge claws prevent it from putting them flat on the ground.

Fore foot of Pig-footed bandicoot Rabbit-eared bandicoot which is close related to the Pig-footedbandicoot

Skeletal specimen of Megatherium
@London natural history museum
(Click to view larger image).

Vintage drawing of Megatherium skeleton in 19 century
(Click to view larger image).

The Giant ground sloths are covered with long hard, dark brown or yellowish hair Additionally, the ground sloths’ already thick hide consists of osteoderms (small round bones), which made the hide exceptionally thick and is a good protection against predators and rivals. Besides their thick bones and even thicker joints gave their appendages tremendous power that, combined with their size and fearsome claws, provided a formidable defense.

Size comparison Megatherium and others

Tooth and skin of Megatherium(Click to view larger image).

Megatherium had a robust skeleton and a broad muscular tail. Its large size enabled it to feed at heights unreachable,other herbivores. Rising on its powerful hind legs and using its tail to form a tripod Megatherium could support its massive body weight while using the curved claws on its long forelegs to pull down branches with the choicest leaves. Megatherium is a very selective eater. With its large, narrow, prehensile lips it chooses, grabs and tears off particular leaves and twigs and other sorts of vegetation. To grind down the vegetarian food the Megatherium has developed only molars, which are long and of a tetrahedral shape.

Size comparison Megatherium and others

Size comparison Megatherium and others(Click to view larger image).

The Giant ground sloths were still common in many parts of the continent, when the first people have occupied the American continent during the period from 30 to 10 thousand years ago. Whereas Eremotherium became extinct in Northern America already 12.500 years ago, the Giant ground sloth flourished in the south until about 10,500 years ago, but disappeared on the mainland about 10,000 years ago and survived only on a very few locations in Argentina until around 8.000 years ago. This leads to the assumption that these animals were hunted to extinction. They were probably a rather easy prey because they are clumsy and slow-moving animals. Although it was difficult to take down a ground sloth with a spear-thrower because of its long, hard fur and ossified skin.

Pig-footed bandicoot enclosure in LOST ZOO

Megatherium enclosure in LOST ZOO
(Click to view larger image).

Nevertheless only the humans are responsible for the extinction of the Giant ground sloth. Also the smaller ground sloth species living on the Caribbean Islands Cuba and Hispaniola became extinct only around 1550, shortly after the arrival of the Europeans. After its extinction by man the Giant ground sloth survives until today only in the old traditional Indian fairy tales as the giant Mapinguari, which their ancestors could not hunted by arrows. But since a few days it can be seen now as live animal in our Lost Zoo. We are especially happy that our female was pregnant, when she arrived. Therefore you have now the unique chance to see the cute baby Ground sloth riding on the back of the proud mother.

Executive Curator
JURGEN LANGE

Megatherium , the Giant ground sloth

The Megatherium or Giant ground sloth is the largest endemic South American mammal. It can walk on its hind legs like a bear. Standing on its hind legs, it is taller than an elephant. Rising on its hind legs and using its tail as an additional support, the Megatherium uses the long forelegs with the sharp curved claws to pull down branches with the choicest leaves, which Megatherium as a very selective eater tears off with its large, narrow, prehensile lips.

Standing upright height: 520 cm

Head-Tail length: 6 m

Footprint: 88 x 48 cm

Body weight: 4-6 tons

Habitat: Pampas region and the Andean mountains up to a height of 4.500 m

Extinction: After the arrival of the first people on the continent the Megatherium disappeared because of overhunting from most parts of its large distribution about 10.000 years ago and became definitely extinct 7000-8000 years ago.

Animal Exhibition
Megatherium